Inside Interview: Senator Joel Lourie

Considered by many to be a rising star in the state Democratic Party, State Senator Joel Lourie is a man to watch. To paraphrase Shakespeare, such men may be considered dangerous, but here in the Blogland, they’re considered darn good subject material.

If he is considered dangerous, there’s good reason for that belief: his political career started by ousting the brother of Attorney General Henry McMaster from what was considered a safe GOP seat, and went to a second level by taking an open Senate seat considered almost as safe for the GOP. Some see him running for statewide office in the not-too-distant future.

When we met Senator Lourie, we found him to be thoughtful, articulate, and darn likeable. He had a solid grasp of the issues of the day, and a clear vision of where he wanted to see the state headed. It’s easy to see how someone like this can win over normally Republican voters, as well as how hard it might be to recruit a viable Republican challenger to his re-election bid.

His family has long ties to the Midlands and the Lowcountry.
His father, Isadore Lourie, spent about two decades in the Senate from Richland County and was a major backer of CofC’s Jewish Studies Center. Not only that, but his family has a broad presence in the history of Charleston, including the Rittenberg family, for whom Sam Rittenberg Boulevard (SC Route 7) was named.

Senator Lourie has the rare honor of being the first Democratic legislator we’ve interviewed, as well as the first member of the Senate from either party, and we’re grateful he was willing to take the time to meet with us and answer a few questions:

1) Your father was a legend in state politics. What are some similar approaches you’ve taken to being a Senator, as well as some different ones?

My mom and dad taught me from an early age that politics should be about bringing people together to solve problems. Both have had tremendous influence on who I am as a person and legislator. My dad taught me through example the importance of working with members of both parties to get things done. I remember in 1984, two of his close friends and Democratic colleagues from Richland County lost their Senate seats to Republicans. Shortly after the election, Dad invited the victors, Senators Warren Giese and John Courson, to his office. He wanted them to know that although they had just defeated his good friends, they all had a responsibility to work together for the betterment of our community and state. He said he would help them in any way possible.

He displayed this same practice of bi-partisanship years later when he went from having an adversarial relationship with Governor Carroll Campbell to one of friendship and mutual respect. This left quite an impression on me as today I enjoy close alliances with members of both parties at the Statehouse.

Regarding our differences, others could speak to this better than me. He was the “real Senator Lourie” and if I accomplish half of what he did, I will have served my state well.

2) Your district, as well as the House seat you previously held, favors Republicans over Democrats in most races. How does holding such a district affect your approach to politics, compared to how those who represent heavily-Democratic or Republican districts might handle legislative affairs?

One thing I have learned while serving in the legislature is that we are all microcosms of our districts. I represent a mostly suburban area where people are informed about what is happening at the Statehouse, understand the importance of supporting public schools and want their tax dollars spent efficiently. My constituents are very moderate and independent in their political thinking. This also describes my approach and hopefully people know that I think through and research issues very carefully. I understand that neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and I have little tolerance for partisan bickering.

3) What issues do you see as priorities for yourself and your district?

I have the honor of representing some of the finest school districts in the state. A major priority in the next legislative session will be to make sure that public education funding doesn’t suffer in this unstable economy. Also, growth has caused incredible road and infrastructure challenges and our state must deal with this issue sooner than later.

Other priorities for me in the legislature will be to rein in or ban payday lending and get an agreement on the cigarette tax. I will also continue to push for access to healthcare options like the bill I authored which requires insurance companies to keep young adults on their parent’s policies until age 25. This legislation passed the Senate last year but not the House.

4) What issues would you like to see receive greater attention?

I think we have both a moral and legal responsibility to address the needs of the poor rural school districts. I have personally visited many of these schools and the conditions in some are deplorable. This crisis needs to be more of a priority. We need a coalition of legislators from across the state that can see beyond the boundaries of their own districts and think about the future of our state as a whole. People sometimes wonder why we have high dropout, unemployment and incarceration rates, and why a high percentage of our states’ population is on Medicaid. I believe that providing a quality education to all students in South Carolina will result in a significant reduction in these areas.

Also, as I referenced earlier, access to healthcare is perhaps the greatest domestic challenge we face in this state and country today. In South Carolina, close to 15% of our citizens have no health insurance and given current economic conditions, it is likely this figure will increase in years to come. We must come together and look at more ways to close this gap.

And, I want to see greater collaboration between our business community, the Legislature, the Commerce Department and our education system. When we pursue economic development opportunities, we need to have a better understanding of how workforce education and training relates to job creation. I question if we are meeting the needs of new and existing businesses. I know we have made progress on this front but I think we can do more.

5) There’s a lot of discussion about what may lie ahead for you in the next two years. Is there anything you’d like to discuss with us about what might be?

My priorities right now include raising two teenagers with my wife Becky, serving in the Senate to the best of my ability and running a small business. Two years is a long way off and there is plenty of time to speculate on the future later.

3 Response to "Inside Interview: Senator Joel Lourie"

  1. Detroit Airport MG 9/9/08 20:21
    I would vote for his puppy before him.
  2. Tony 11/9/08 21:06
    Detroit Airport mg:
    That speaks volumes for your intelligence. Senator Lourie is one of the most hard working dedicated servants in our state legislature. As the blog points out, he serves Republicans, Independents and Democrats well. Senator Lourie is a strong supporter of education and assisting Senior Citizens. Normally, I wouldn't even bother to comment on a blog like this but for your childish remark a rebuttal was necessary.
  3. lake marion mg 13/9/08 20:23
    Tony what flavor kool aid are you drinking man. If he really supported education he would favor vouchers and also would turn public schools into a private enterprise and get it out of the hands of government. Look how his party is operating the school system now. We are throwing good money away. We all support our seniors and like most Democrats you guys keep them scared and they will continue to vote for you. Take an Ambien and go to sleep.

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